We Used ‘NBA 2K21’ To Simulate The 2020 NBA Finals

There are, at most, seven more games standing between us and the end of the weirdest NBA season of our lives. In a series that is ripe with intrigue for a handful of reasons, both in terms of what will happen in the coming games and the histories of a handful of individuals on both sides of things, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will meet on the hardwood at the NBA’s Orlando Bubble.

That experiment has generally been a success, and as a result, we get to watch a Finals that pits LeBron James against one of his former squads. But before things tip off on Wednesday evening, we decided to fire up a copy of NBA 2K21 and see what the future might have in store.

I used the Playoffs mode on 2K, selected the Lakers and the Heat as my teams, and simulated to the Finals. While the path was left up to chance — i.e. there was no guarantee it would be exactly the same as the ones they went on based on the teams they beat and how many games they played — I did what I could to game the system by moving all of the sliders all the way in one direction or another as I simmed and putting the Simulator Difficulty down to 0. I also didn’t touch the rotations until I got to the Finals, because whatever, man. I also turned off fatigue and injuries, because the first time I did this, Anthony Davis got hurt and I felt like a big freakin’ idiot.

Here were the roads both teams traversed to the Finals:

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Go Nets! Once this was all done, I set the difficulty to Hall of Fame, made all the sliders normal, tweaked the rotations to look as close as I could to what the minutes distribution has been during this postseason, and got to simming. Here’s how it went down.

Game 1: Miami 132, Los Angeles 113 (Heat lead, 1-0)

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Despite Anthony Davis (42 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks) and LeBron James (31 points, six rebounds, six assists) having monster games, Miami was able to come out on top, bookending things with dominant first and fourth quarters. This was thanks to four Heat players absolutely exploding: Goran Dragic (32 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four steals), Tyler Herro (27 points, zero rebounds/assists/steals/blocks, strictly buckets), Jimmy Butler (24 points, seven assists, six rebounds), and Bam Adebayo (22 points, 19 rebounds, six blocks). As a team, Miami led by as many as 23 and hit 17 threes and got to the free throw line 30 times, converting 27 percent of their attempts.

Game 2: Los Angeles 124, Miami 93 (Series tied, 1-1)

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The Laker defense, so porous in Game 1, extinguishes the Heat in Game 2. Miami could not get to the free throw line, getting seven total attempts from the charity stripe, while the team hit on just 33 percent of its threes. Davis (36 points, 16 rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks) was again magnificent, while James (19 points, 11 assists) took a more subtle role in the proceedings and Alex Caruso (15 points, four assists, two steals, two blocks) gave the team a boost off the bench. Dragic (24 points, nine assists) and Adebayo (21 points, eight rebounds, two blocks) were both solid, but Butler and Herro combined to score 24, nowhere near enough to topple a Laker side that was firing on all cylinders.

Game 3: Miami 96, Los Angeles 83 (Heat lead, 2-1)

NBA 2K21

An eight-point quarter! We don’t need a ton of details here, but everyone on the Lakers played horribly. Davis and James combined for 30 points on 11-for-34 shooting. As a team, L.A. shot 34 percent from the field, 31 percent from three, and shot 12 free throws. The Heat weren’t exactly stellar outside of Butler — 24 points, nine rebounds, five assists, and three steals — but this is the exact kind of game that probably had Pat Riley doing backflips from his private box in the Bubble. (Are they doing private boxes in the Bubble? I should look into this once this whole experiment ends.)

Game 4: Miami 117, Los Angeles 108 (Heat lead, 3-1)

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Our biggest Adebayo-Davis battle of the series tilts towards Miami. Both were brilliant — Adebayo had 27 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks, Davis scored 30, reeled in 16, and blocked two — but ultimately, the Heat were able to hit four more threes and five more free throws. It’s probably not all that much unlike what we can probably expect in the real version of this series, where Miami will have to rely on hitting more threes and getting to the line more in order to pick up the win. Oh, and having Adebayo helps a whole heck of a lot, too. Los Angeles absolutely hammered Miami on points in the paint, outscoring them 44-26, but Erik Spoelstra’s bunch did what they had to do to win better than Frank Vogel and co. As a result, they’re only one win away from a championship, although as the Golden State Warriors will tell you, beating a LeBron James team that is down 3-1 in the NBA Finals isn’t always easy.

Game 5: Los Angeles 125, Miami 105 (Heat lead, 3-2)

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Hey, remember my last sentence? James had 43 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds. Things looked pretty bleak for the Lakers through three, then a monumental team effort in the fourth got them to a crucial Game 6. Davis was quite good (29 points, 11 rebounds), and Miami had five players in double-digits led by 25 points from Dragic, but you’re not beating a LeBron team if he goes for 43-8-7 in a Finals game. As such, the Heat have to wait another game to potentially secure a ring.

Game 6: Miami 119, Los Angeles 117 (Heat win series, 4-2)

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A game fitting of a championship coronation. The Heat’s two veterans at the center of everything — Dragic (32 points, seven made threes) and Butler (24 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, three steals, a block) — ultimately get them over the line, while Herro gives them 19 off the bench and Adebayo stuffs the stat sheet with 15 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Davis (29 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals, an assist) was once again magnificent, as was James (27 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, three steals), while the team shot a remarkable 34-for-40 from the free throw line. But once again, the three-point line was the equalizer: Miami hit 15 shots from deep, while Los Angeles shot nine. Oh, and go to back to the whole coronation thing to close, your NBA Finals MVP is Bam Adebayo, who played 38 minutes a game and went for 19 points, 13 rebounds, 3.2 blocks, 1.8 assists, and 1.2 steals a night while connecting on 54.1 percent of his shots from the field.

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